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Welsh Hero Owain Glyndŵr: The Last Welsh Prince of Wales

British royalty and its history are fascinating. Exploring the lives of lesser known royals is a joy.

Owain Glyndŵr's coat of arms.

Owain Glyndŵr's coat of arms.

Wales Was Once Its Own Realm

Wales was once independent of the rest of the British Isles and it had its own rulers. The kings and armies of England and Wales frequently clashed over disputed lands in the borders or marches. Marcher Lords were the landowners that were expected by their ruler to successfully defend and take lands on the borders. King Edward I of England (1239-1307) was nicknamed the Hammer of the Scots but he was equally brutal in his dealings with the Welsh. His seizure of the entire country in the 1280s signalled the end of Welsh autonomy.

Medieval Wales.

Medieval Wales.

Welsh Deaths, English Rule

Llewellyn ap Gryffydd (1223-1282) and his brother Dafydd (1238-1283) were the last Welsh-born rulers of Wales. Llewellyn was killed by the English in battle near Builth Wells in Brenockshire, now Powys, on the 11th December 1282. Dafydd was excruciatingly executed in October 1283 on Edward I’s command. In 1301 the king’s eldest son and heir apparent Edward of Carnarvon (1284-1327) became the first non-Welsh Prince of Wales. Today, Prince Charles (b.1948) holds the title and the record for the longest term as Prince of Wales.

The Flag of the Kingdom of Gwynned used by Llewellyn the Great, Owain's ancestor. Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales uses a version of this.

The Flag of the Kingdom of Gwynned used by Llewellyn the Great, Owain's ancestor. Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales uses a version of this.

Owain Glyndŵr

Welshman Owain Glyndŵr (c.1354-1416,) Owen Glendower, also called Owain ap Gryffudd, was a descendant of the Princes of Powys, the Princes of Deheubarth and of the royal house of Llewellyn the Great, King of Gwynedd (c.1173-1240). During the late 1390s and the early 1400s, he became a national hero for his endeavours to secure independence from English rule.

He had studied law in London before serving in the army of the English noble Henry IV, Henry Bolingbroke (1367-1413,) who deposed his controversial cousin King Richard II (1367-1400.) When Owain returned to Wales he noted with frustration that the stringent English rule over his countrymen was economically detrimental to the Welsh.

He married Marred ferch Dafydd, Margaret Hanmer (1370-c.1420) but we have no record of the date that their wedding occurred. As his family grew and the years passed, Owain continued to speak out against Henry IV’s oppressive measures, and resentment among his increasing number of followers in Wales increased.

Statue of Llewellyn The Great in Conwy, Wales.Image by Rhion Pritchard.

Statue of Llewellyn The Great in Conwy, Wales.Image by Rhion Pritchard.

Owain Glyndwr, Cardiff City Hall.

Owain Glyndwr, Cardiff City Hall.

The Prince of Wales - Twywsog Cymru

In 1400 a dispute between Owain Glyndŵr and the king’s friend and ally Lord Reynold Grey of Ruthven (c.1362-1440) from a neighbouring estate about whether Glyndŵr was a traitor escalated into an uprising of thousands of men. The animosity was fuelled by the execution of one of Richard II’s courtiers in the marcher city of Chester. Richard II had enjoyed moderate support in Wales during his reign and the execution was unpopular news. Subsequent battles were increasingly caused by the desire for Welsh independence and the need, as the English saw it, to suppress the Welsh rebels.

Glyndŵr secured two-thirds of Wales’ lands within five years. He was helped enormously by Henry IV’s implementation of stricter laws against the Welsh which inspired many more Welshmen to pick up their weapons and fight back. By 1405 Owain Glyndŵr was calling himself the Prince of Wales and he had created his own parliament and plans for an independent Wales. Owain was the last Welsh-born man to call himself the Prince of Wales, in Welsh the Twywsog Cymru.

The plaque marking Owain Glyndŵr's parliament building in Machynlleth, Powys.

The plaque marking Owain Glyndŵr's parliament building in Machynlleth, Powys.

Henry IV's Reaction

The 1405 Triparate Indenture split Wales, south, west and northern England between himself, his son-in-law Edmund Mortimer, Lord March (1376-1409) and Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. (1341-1408.) Outraged, Henry IV sent his son Prince Henry (1386-1422,) since 1399 the official holder of the title Prince of Wales, to subdue the rebels. The French, ruled by Charles VI (1368-1422,) allied themselves with Owain Glyndŵr but they soon lost faith and fled when Glyndŵr’s army was defeated by Prince Henry’s twice in quick succession. His English allies for Welsh independence started to dwindle.

Three years of intense fighting brought Prince Henry and his army significant victories. Glyndŵr’s forces suffered from two major issues: a lack of ships for Wales’ coastline defences and a shortage of artillery. The king of England’s son had no such problems, whatever he needed to win the conflict Henry IV provided.

The English Suppress the Rebellion

Henry Percy fell at the Battle of Bramham Moor on the 19th February 1408. In January 1409 Edmund Mortimer, Lord March was killed in battle at Harlech Castle. Owain’s wife Marred (Owain’s Princess of Wales) and two of their daughters were imprisoned. Henry IV took control of Owain Glyndŵr’s strongholds but the Welshman was not ready to concede. He evaded capture by the English, most likely taking refuge in the Welsh mountains.

Despite Henry IV’s death and his former rival on the battlegrounds, Henry V ascending the throne in 1413 with promises of a pardon for Owain, he did not submit and was recorded as being present at a battle in Brecon in 1412. Then he inexplicably vanished.

King Henry IV of England, Henry Bolingbroke.

King Henry IV of England, Henry Bolingbroke.

A Welsh Hero Never Betrayed

Henry V offered substantial rewards for information or capture of the missing Owain Glyndŵr but he was never found or betrayed. He died in 1415 or 1416 according to the writings of a loyal follower. His exact burial place is still debated. He attained a mythical status in Wales and William Shakespeare depicted him in his play Henry IV, Part I as unruly and mystical.

In Wales, his coat of arms is highly visible on buildings and it is still believed by some that should Wales be threatened again that their hero will reappear and lead the defence against the enemy.

Owain’s sons died, were imprisoned or accepted a pardon from the king. None of them had children so the male Glyndŵr line died out in the 1400s.

Sources

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

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